Assignments

You’ll find information below about how each of the assignments will be graded, as well as a list of numerical grade equivalents that we’ll use in this class, an explanation of how the participation grade was calculated, and a note about judgment calls in determining your final grade.

PARTICIPATION GRADE

My practice when calculating participation grades is to start everyone off at a basic B level (about an 85). A B grade assumes regular attendance (no more than two unexcused absences), regular participation in class discussions, plus evidence that you were engaged in the planning, carrying out, and reflection phases of the class session that you co-led. Additional or particularly high-quality work above and beyond this boosts participation grades higher; shortcomings in any of these basic areas lowers the grade.  Additional/high-quality work in this class could include particularly engaged or exceptional work on the class session, additional postings and/or comments in the blog beyond the basic requirements (the two graded blog posts and pop culture links), or meeting with me to discuss assignments or other class-related matters.

I should note that the overall participation in this class was outstanding – an unusually strong level of commitment and engagement!

JUDGMENT CALLS

When all the percentages are posted and calculated in Blackboard, there are always a few grades that are on the line between one grade level and the next. If yours was one of those, please know that I spend a good deal of time thinking about which way to tip the grade, and that I’m weighing a number of factors in making the decision. Chief among these is the question of where the overall “center of gravity” was for your grades over the semester. For example, if your final total was on the B+/A- line but your main paper grades were all in the B range, that will likely tip your overall grade downward. Sometimes these calculations are extremely nuanced, and it comes down to a matter of tenths of a percentage point and some very fine judgments about individual performance and how it compares with others in the grade ranges in question.  Grades aren’t negotiable after they’ve been posted, but I’m happy to explain your specific case in more detail if you’re not clear on how I arrived at the final grade.

ASSIGNMENT 3 – Mini-ethnography of Union Square automobility (due by class time Dec. 8 )

Take fieldnotes on any aspect of automobility in Union Square during our Nov. 21 fieldtrip and write them up into a paper of at least 5 pgs. in length, incorporating observation/description, theoretical discussion, and original analysis/interpretation.  Essentially, this paper is like the car ad paper, except that instead of analyzing an ad, you will be interpreting the data from your own observations in Union Square.

You can choose any mobile or stationary aspect of Union Square that relates to cars:  traffic patterns, signals or signage, parking spaces or lots, pedestrian or bicycle behaviors, particular places in the square, noise, etc.  Try to have a question or possible topic in your mind before we visit the square, as a starting-point for your observations and inquiry, although this may very well change once you’re there.  You may want to talk with people on the street or in stores, if your question is one that would benefit from hearing some “native” perspectives.  You should take field notes and perhaps document your subject in other ways (photographs, mapping, audio recording–although if you’re recording or photographing any people, make sure that they are aware of the fact and are okay with it).  As soon as possible after the trip, make sure to write up your notes in a more finished form. This will create the body of experiential data that you will draw on for the paper.

In the paper itself, focus on a particular question or aspect of your subject that you found interesting.  Connect it to the course readings and ideas in some way, as you did with the ad paper.  You might want to use direct excerpts from your written-up fieldnotes  to illustrate your points.  You can also incorporate maps, photographs, and other visual material if they relate to your discussion.  Good ethnographic writing contains all of these elements (theory, data from fieldnotes and documentation, and some kind of question that you’re exploring and interpreting), either set out in separate sections or integrated throughout the paper.

See the Syllabus page for ideas about which readings you might use as starting-points for thinking about your mini-fieldwork exercise.  Potential topics and connections have been added in green type throughout the syllabus.

The assignment will be graded as follows:

To receive a grade in the C range, your paper must include the basics:

  • core elements of assignment: clear summary/description/documentation of some aspect of Union Square, engagement with theory/readings, and original analysis or interpretation
  • basic competence in writing, including structure, word choice, mechanics, citation
  • a well-chosen research topic or site – i.e. something that really reveals something about automobility and Union Square

To receive a grade in the B range, you must include the above plus:

  • a balance among description, theoretical discussion, and analysis – roughly one-third each
  • appropriate choice of course material in relation to this aspect of the square
  • active engagement with theory and course ideas
  • a clear and coherent interpretation of what’s happening in the aspect of the square that you’ve chosen

A grade in the A range must include the above plus:

  • exceptionally well integrated description, theory, and analysis
  • exceptionally original or compelling interpretation
  • synergistic, “elegant” style/presentation – i.e. the whole is more than the sum of its parts

ASSIGNMENT 2 – Car ad analysis (due by class time Nov. 8 )

Find a car ad in any medium, describe it, and analyze it using any of the theoretical or historical materials we have seen so far in the course.  The paper should be 3-5 pages long and should cite at least one of the class readings.  An obvious choice for this would be Fiona McLean’s piece on car advertising, but there may be better choices, depending on your ad and what aspect of it you choose to interpret.  You might want to think about concepts like space, modernity, automobility, culture, road safety, etc. in analyzing your ad.  Don’t feel that you need to cram many references into the paper;  the most successful papers will be those that have a good balance between the cited sources and your original analysis, and where both are well suited to the specific ad.

Make sure to include a copy of the ad or a link to it, so that I can view it while grading your paper.  You can include a link or digital image with the paper file itself, or give me a hard copy in class on Nov. 8.  Use whichever academic citation style you’re familiar with for citing your source(s) – just make sure to be correct and consistent (ask me for input if you’re not sure about this).  Upload the file in Blackboard, as you did with the first paper.  Here’s how the assignment will be graded:

To receive a grade in the C range, your paper must include the basics:

  • core elements of assignment: clear summary/description and some analysis or interpretation
  • a digital image, hard copy, or link to the ad
  • basic competence in writing, including structure, word choice, mechanics
  • reference to at least one reading from the class so far

To receive a grade in the B range, you must include the above plus:

  • a balance between description and analysis – about 50/50
  • evidence that you have a clear understanding of the course concept(s) you use in your interpretation
  • evidence that you know how to use others’ work in your own writing – i.e. engaging with your cited source(s), not just plopping in short references
  • a clear and coherent interpretation of the ad

A grade in the A range must include the above plus:

  • exceptionally well integrated description and analysis
  • exceptionally original or compelling interpretation
  • synergistic, “elegant” style/presentation – i.e. the whole is more than the sum of its parts

ASSIGNMENT 1 - “Auto-biography”

To receive a grade in the C range, your paper or project must include the basics:

  • core elements of assignment: some information and reflection on an aspect of your relationship to cars, driving, or car culture in general
  • basic competence in writing, including structure, word choice, mechanics

To receive a grade in the B range, you must include the above plus:

  • reflection that goes beyond the obvious and explores some facet of your relationship to car culture in a critical or questioning way

A grade in the A range must include the above plus:

  • exceptionally original ideas or conclusions
  • evidence that the paper helped you to explore your own experiences in a productive way – that is, that it reflects real thought and intellectual work as well as recollection and synthesis
  • synergistic, “elegant” style/presentation – i.e. the whole is more than the sum of its parts

BLOG POSTS on NEWSPAPERS

To receive a grade in the C range, your paper or project must include the basics:

  • core elements of assignment: survey/summary of the automotive section of a newspaper of your choice, posted in the same week that the edition of the paper appeared
  • basic competence in writing, including structure, word choice, mechanics
  • minimum length of 300 words (suggested range:  300-600 words)

To receive a grade in the B range, you must include the above plus:

  • some critical reflection on some or all of the articles and other materials in that edition of the car section of the paper
  • working links to online stories, if applicable
  • some connection with materials and ideas from the course, as applicable

A grade in the A range must include the above plus:

  • exceptionally broad or original ideas or conclusions
  • exceptional use of course materials and ideas as part of your discussion
  • synergistic, “elegant” style/presentation

LETTER GRADE EQUIVALENTS

Below are the numerical and letter grade equivalents that will be used in this course. Grades for individual assignments will be posted numerically in Blackboard, although you will receive both letter and numerical grades with your assignments themselves. The final weighted numerical total will be converted to a letter grade at the end of the semester. If you end up with a total that is in between letter grades, it will be nudged upward or downward depending on various factors, of which participation is by far the most important. This is where your participation (contributing substantively to discussions and the wiki, or other evidence of strong commitment to the course materials) can really help your grade.

Grades in the A range reflect work that is outstanding in some way, either because of its level of commitment to the assignment, its skill in presentation, and/or its originality or sophistication of thought.

B range grades reflect good work that takes the assignment seriously and offers substantive and well-expressed ideas. It may be that the ideas are not articulated as clearly as they might be, or that they do not connect fully with class readings, discussions, and other materials.

Grades in the C range show that something is missing – either some key point(s) of the assignment went unaddressed, or the presentation is not clear or persuasive, or both.

A D range grade reflects work that lacks skill, commitment, or both.

Letter grade and % equivalent
A 96-100
A/A- 95
A- 91-94
B+/A- 90
B+ 88-89
B/B+ 87
B 84-86
B-/B 83
B- 81-82
C+/B- 80
C+ 78-79
C+/C 77
C 75-76
C/C- 74
C- 71-73
D+/C- 70
D+ 68-69
D/D+ 67
D 65-66
D-/D 64
D- 60-63
F <60



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